The culture of disciplines: reconceptualising multi-subject curricula

Davies, Richard orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7910-8959 and Trowsdale, Jo (2021) The culture of disciplines: reconceptualising multi-subject curricula. British Educational Research Journal, 47 (5). pp. 1434-1446. ISSN 0141-1926

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The arts are recognised for their potential to humanise and enrich educational experience, but hold a lowly position in the hierarchy of school subject-based curricula. This limits the time, and thus the influence, they can have. Whilst schools welcome the idea of a curriculum rich with both arts and science subjects, resistance to realising this is often advanced in terms of the proportion of curriculum time required for different subjects. Arguments for STEAM education, whilst apparently challenging this and valuing the potential of the arts, have reinforced its servant role. Drawing on research into a particular project, where the perspectives of the arts and sciences inform and enrich how the other is experienced and understood, we reframe this problem. Firstly, drawing on Massey’s conception of space-time, we argue that one can conceive of more than one subject occupying the same curricular space on a school timetable. Secondly, informed by Geertz, we consider what the culture of the arts and the sciences offers, suggesting that this appears to reflect what teachers have valued. We argue that foregrounding the culture of school subjects, and particularly the culture of the arts, as part of a multicultural frame can facilitate rich and engaging educational experiences. Rather than being positioned as competing for time or status in the curriculum, a focus on culture emphasises how the co-existence and interplay of multiple subjects broadens, develops and thus enriches children’s educational experience. It also enables a different conception of, and thus role for, the arts in schooling.

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